Frenchman detained in Bulgaria denies Islamist militant links: lawyer

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 16, 2015 11:12 AM

By Tsvetelia Tsolova

HASKOVO, Bulgaria (Reuters) - A French citizen arrested in Bulgaria for alleged links to the gunmen who attacked the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, denies being part of an Islamist group and is ready to be extradited to prove his innocence, his lawyer said on Friday.

Fritz-Joly Joachin was detained by Bulgarian police at a border checkpoint as he tried to cross into Turkey in the early hours of Jan. 1 under a European arrest warrant that alleged he had abducted his three-year-old son - an accusation he denies.

A second European arrest warrant alleged he had participated in a criminal group that plotted acts of terrorism, for which he could face 10 years in prison.

Joachin was brought into a provincial court in the city of Haskovo near the Turkish border on Friday. A construction worker without any previous criminal convictions, Joachin told the court he expected a fair hearing and at one point objected to having a female translator.

"He has told me that he has no links to Al Qaeda or any other terrorist group," Radi Radev, Joachin's lawyer, told reporters.

The court has given Joachin three more days to decide whether to contest his extradition back to France and will announce its decision on whether on send him home on Tuesday.

Joachin had been traveling by bus from France to Turkey with his son. Bulgarian police arrested him after his wife told French authorities he planned to take their child to Syria to be raised under radical Islam.

The second European arrest warrant, issued on Jan. 11 by a Paris court, said Joachin had been in contact with one of the two Islamists that attacked Charlie Hebdo days before he started his journey.

The warrant said he was traveling with a man allegedly part of a Islamist network in Paris. Also with them was the sister of a man currently in jail for being part of a network that sent fighters to Syria, it said.

"The arrest warrant names several people who have traveled with in the same bus to Turkey," Darina Slavova, the Bulgarian prosecutor in the case, told Reuters. "But there was no information about them at the time of the border crossing, so they have not been detained."

(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Angus MacSwan)